Rovers at Wintergreen, ROAV’s annual Spring event, always takes place in April. Registration opened with an online notice in February; it took only 48 hours to fill the 125 available slots. That’s a sign of a popular event.
The Wintergreen Ski Resort in Roseland, VA, sits within the Blue Ridge Mountains — one of the most stunning sets of vistas on the East Coast. The Blue Ridge Parkway traverses the mountains, running 469 miles between Asheville, NC, and Waynesboro, VA, which brings you close to the Wintergreen Resort. The drive provides an array of spectacular scenery, and it’s one I did not want to see from an airplane. Happily, my pleas to JLR went heeded and I found myself with the key fob and full tank of gas for a 2023 Range Rover for the long weekend [see p. 30 -ed].
Rovers at Wintergreen offers enthusiasts a full array of experiences. On the one hand, you can book a room at the very comfortable central lodge or adjacent buildings and enjoy meals at one of their four fine restaurants. Even the on-site convenience store offers super sandwiches and great coffee! You can rent a nearby condominium or cabin, or reserve a campsite a few miles away next door to the fabulous Devil’s Backbone brewery and BBQ. All these amenities offer a contrast to the club’s annual fall event, camping at the “mud-and-rain” Mid Atlantic Rally.
ROAV offered free breakfast on Friday morning to entice you to attend a driver’s meeting, followed by a presentation on Team Rover Landing by Rebelle Rally competitors Regina Recifo, Havre de Grace, MD, and Sarah Crabtree, Hershey, PA [see Winter/Spring 2023 issue -ed]. Once well-fed and hydrated, the center of the event for all the attendees became the trail rides. ROAV volunteers had spent many weekends clearing trails in advance of the event due to erosion damage on the mountainsides. The trail network includes service lanes used by the resort, fire lanes, and dedicated off-roading runs. As trail leader Bob Steele noted, “We had to deal with 3-foot to 5-foot diameter trees that had toppled at their root balls – and those 10-foot root balls threw some enormous boulders onto the trails.” Upwards of 25 enthusiasts volunteered to work in the woods each work weekend.
To lessen congestion on the narrow trails, Bob Steele wrangled the dozens of eager off-roaders into 7 groups, from “Easy” to “Moderate” to “Moderate – Difficult” to “Difficult Extreme.” For the multiple trail ride convoys, Bob called upon Lawrence Michelon (also this year’s event coordinator), Tyler Smith, Alan Kidd, Dale Jackson, Ralf Sarek, Doug Crowther, Kevin Barnes, Mike Boggs, and Jeff Bang. Or to put it another way, an electrical engineer, an architect, an automotive technician, an attorney, a nuclear engineer, an automotive engineer/CEO, another Land Rover restoration specialist, an audio-visual integration engineer, an excavating contractor, and a dentist. The Land Rover enthusiast community never fails to amaze me with its professional diversity.
On my first trail ride, I jumped in with Tyler Smith, Roanoke, VA, and Camryn Griffiths, Leesburg, VA, in his ‘99 TReK Edition Discovery II (#8). Tyler has served as a trail leader in past events as well as a tireless volunteer for trail work weekends. His Discovery’s lift and big tires, aided by skilled driving, made short work of the ascents and descents on the trails. Once we started going downhill, I stepped out to take photographs. Unprepared for the effect of loose rocks on a very steep downhill, I found myself essentially sliding down the trail like a roller derby competitor trying to regain balance – while shooting photos. The results felt less than elegant but must have provided much amusement for the drivers behind me.
To avoid slip sliding away, I forced Jeff Brunk, Richmond, VA, to stop his ’97 Discovery I and let me climb aboard. Although Jeff worked at Sarek Autowerke and now works at Land Rover Richmond, he had been without a Land Rover until a trip to Moab convinced him he needed one. His 145,000-mile example received lockers front and rear and a 3” TerraFirma lift, yet it rode like a stock Defender. Only the tightest and soggiest of turns required engaging the lockers. One nasty uphill 90-degree turn found the rear end sliding off to one side and the front end slipping sidewards. I got out to investigate options and had him reverse a short distance, using the firm side of a deep rut. It took a couple of back-and-forth moves to straighten out, then a firm right foot shot him up the steep, slippery slope. I had the mud spray over my clothes as souvenirs of the 4.0L’s torque.
Behind Jeff in our convoy, Doug Boyer waited in his own Discovery. Doug and Jeff remain close friends after meeting in the 11th grade in Virginia Beach, VA, in the ‘90s. Back then, Jeff and Doug worshipped Chevy and Dodge vehicles and Doug eventually migrated over to Jeeps. In fact, for their Moab trip. Doug had bought a Jeep Rubicon to run the trails. Once he met the Land Rover enthusiasts at Moab, he told Jeff, “What turned me on to Land Rovers was less the vehicle and more the community.”
I also spent time with Rob Richardson, Henrico, VA, in his ’73 Series III. We had met and enjoyed each other’s company last year; this year we took a novice ride together and traded Series off-road driving tips. It felt wonderful to see Rob gain confidence in the off-road capabilities of his Series III as he chose the right gearing and read the rutted paths accurately. Neither the vehicle nor the driver erred during the trail run.
As with any Land Rover event, the weather holds the best hand. While Friday, April 21, the opening day of the event, featured comfortable, dry conditions, storms moved in that night and while they abated early Saturday morning, they left the trails quick slick in spots and forced the closure of planned runs. Will and Meredith Tillery, their toddler Willow and their dog drove over from Lexington, VA, in the family’s ’08 LR3 with only 108,000 miles on the odometer. Will noted that “our daughter really enjoys off-roading with us, but she’s young to be in such big crowds. And the rains limited our off-road options – still, we really had a great time.” It was great to catch up with Jonathan Crain and Bill Rickman, both from Richmond, VA, and Daryl Beasley, Portsmouth, VA, and to meet triathlete David McCurdy, Lynchburg, VA. Ron Peppard, Waltham, MA, Helene Raynaud, Ellicott City, MD, Kateryna Bagrii, Ellsworth, ME, and a bevy of other enthusiasts generously shared their time and stories.
Whoever you missed on the trails you could find at any of the social events, whether ROAV’s dinners or at any of the dining spots. I guessed that the Devil’s Backbone Brewery, BBQ, and restaurant would attract a goodly number of enthusiasts, and I wasn’t wrong.
Matt Albritton, Charlotte, NC, works as an instructor at the Land Rover Experience Biltmore and runs his own Land Rover business, Ridge Rovers; he’s one of the many online personalities you come across; in true Land Rover fashion, he’s a fascinating individual in person.
Troy Smith, Roanoke, VA, could speak both Land Rover and Triumph Spitfire with me. (Most of my Land Rover friends will not even mention any connection with a Spitfire!) A construction company president, Troy has a shop in nearby Salem, VA, that escaped destruction when a fire in an adjacent building lapped up against his. Allen and Ali Kidd, Midlothian, VA, brought a variety of family members to dinner, which enriched the conversations about Allen greatly! Newly engaged enthusiasts Dan Hawthorne and Laurie Goode, Richmond VA, swapped off-road stories in between probing me about secret spots for a honeymoon in Maine.
ROAV president David Short, Sterling, VA, noted that this year’s event had more L663 Defenders (13) than Series Land Rovers (11) – hinting at a real changing of the guard. What hasn’t changed is the shared admiration for each enthusiast and the camaraderie they share together. It doesn’t matter which Land Rover you enjoy; from the earliest Series I to the latest Range Rover, the vehicle makes it possible for exceptional people to achieve the extraordinary.